In Dumbarton, 0.5 miles west of River Leven, just north of A814, north of Brucehill, adjacent to Notre Dame School, at Castlehill.
A large mound within a small area of parkland held by the N.T.S. commemorates the death place of King Robert the Bruce.
The Parish of Cardross once extended as far as the River Leven, and the medieval church remains as a ruin within Levengrove Park.
In about 1326, The Bruce looked to find a site to build himself a comfortable retirement home after his years of warring with the English. He chose the Parish of Cardross and obtained it by exchanging Royal estates with local landowners, principally Sir David Graham. This gained the Grahams the estate of Old Montrose, with which the family are normally associated.
Argument has raged over the years as to whether this was a castle or not, however ancient documentation describes it as a 'manororium', or manor house. Although probably not fortified, this site is included for personal interest, since for me this is where my interest in castles began.
No evidence exists to suggest that the structure was fortified. Documentation reveals that it had a single stone wall bordering the King's apartment. It had thatched roofs and some of the windows were glazed. It was a large building, with a separate chamber for the Queen, a chapel, a hall, and from 1328 a 'new chamber'.
There was a garden and a hunting park with a specially built falcon house surrounded by hedging. The King was known to have kept galleys here to sail the western seas, including one he called his 'great ship'.
Argument also surrounds the actual site. That given above indicates the site used by the N.T.S., and it is only fitting that they should commemorate the death place of our greatest King in some way. However evidence suggests that the actual site was nearer the Leven, and various sites are suggested. These include the vicinity of Mains of Cardross Farm (mains meant demesne in old terminology indicating a home farm) though archaeological investigation of a low rectangular mound gave no evidence of early occupation . Some other suggestions are more fanciful, such as at Tullichewan. Certainly the variety of buildings described would not be possible on such a small outcrop of rock.
Only archaeological evidence could indicate the true site, and similarly establish the nature of the mound at Castlehill, which may simply be a natural rocky outcrop which to date has given no firm evidence of occupation. For myself I prefer to think that Castlehill was a motte, possibly the Graham's original seat in the estate, as suggested by GWS Barrow.
There are records showing that the King's great ship was pulled up for repairs into a burn which ran beside the house. This indicates that the actual site may have been very close to the Leven. Since most of the west bank was industrialised, and over the years the course of the river altered, then it is very unlikely that any trace will ever be found.
Bruce died here in 1329, his heart cut out as he requested and taken on crusade. It was carried in a silver casket by Sir James Douglas. Douglas and many of his entourage died in battle against the Moors in Grenada, though Bruce's heart was returned and interred in Melrose Abbey. His body was buried at the Abbey of Dunfermline. The manor does not appear to have been used after his death. The estate was absorbed within the castle lands of Dumbarton, remaining Royal property and providing revenues used to maintain the castle.
It is this site which continued to be named 'Arthur's Castle' on Ordnance Survey maps in the 19thc, though this is likely to have been transposed from Dumbarton, less than a mile away over the River Leven.
(NS 3850 7587) Castle (NR) (Site of)
OS 6" map (1922)
At Cardross, on the west side of the River Leven, Robert I built a castle in which he died on June 7th 1329. Nothing remains of this castle, but the small eminence on which it stood, retains the name of "Castle Hill".
G Chalmers 1890
The site of the castle of Cardross is marked by two wooded knolls on Castlehill Farm. 'A somewhat steep ascent on the western side appears to have led to a terrace on which may have been the main buildings'.
J Irving 1920
Castle Hill is a small rock outcrop and bears no trace of any foundations or fortifications.
Visited by OS (DS) 3 October 1956
NS 385 758 The castle built by Robert I at Cardross is said to have stood on Castlehill.
RCAHMS 1978, visited August 1977
NSA 1845; G Chalmers 1890
Chalmers, G (1887-94 )
Caledonia: or a historical and topographical account of North Britain,
7 vols + index, Paisley, Vol.6, 864, 873,
Irving, J (1920 )
History of Dumbartonshire,
2v, Pt 2, 179-80,
NSA (1845 )
The new statistical account of Scotland by the ministers of the respective parishes under the superintendence of a committee of the society for the benefit of the sons and daughters of the clergy,
15v, Edinburgh, vol.8, 86-7,
RCAHMS (1978 d)
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The archaeological sites and monuments of Dumbarton District, Clydebank District, Bearsden and Milngavie District, Strathclyde Region,
The archaeological sites and monuments of Scotland series no 3, Edinburgh, 90, no.97,
It is interesting to note that investigation of a raised area of ground at the midden of Mains of Cardross Farm, once thought to be the possible site, is now listed as being a probable WW2 military site.
Midden deposits, site of deserted farmstead, possible World War II bunker. Details in Strathclyde Sites and Monuments Record.
SRC SMR 1994a.